As part of National Youth Music Theatre, Lottie Beck Johnson has appeared in a number of shows with the company which has included a run of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at The Other Palace in summer 2018. Lottie has also had screen experience with short films Tapestry and Pillow Girl: the Musical and has recently finished filming for a new role with BBC Arts. Currently, Lottie boards at Tring Park School for Performing Arts and is coming to the end of her first year studying towards her GCSEs. Speaking to Lottie, we find out about performing with NYMT, her screen roles and attending Tring Park School.
Can you say about being a member of the National Youth Music Theatre and what productions you’ve performed in with the company?
Being in NYMT is like being in a big family. It is made up of incredible people who all share the same passion and are supportive and caring. The creative teams are so talented and inspiring and the way they treat you feels very professional and you feel valued. You work very hard but it’s really rewarding.
I’ve met lots of really talented people at NYMT and I’ve made some friends for life.
My first performance with NYMT was their amazing Encore 40th Anniversary Gala at the Adelphi in the West End in 2016 which was very special. I then did a touring production of Honk! in 2017 and then in 2018 I was in a run of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at The Other Palace in London where we also did an original cast recording which should be out soon. Each production had a different cast and creative team, who were all wonderful to work with!
How is the experience performing on a West End stage?
Quite extraordinary! The NYMT 40th Anniversary Gala was pretty prestigious and included show songs from over their 40 years and it was a sell-out one night performance so the auditorium was packed! Our rehearsals were intensive and residential so when we got to the Adelphi it was so rewarding because all our hard work got to be shown on an amazing stage.
It was exciting being in a production involving NYMT founder Jeremy James Taylor and alumni such as Lily James (also from Tring!), Toby Jones, Gina Beck, Michael Jibson, Jasper Britton, Gavin Spokes, Siena Kelly, Lara Pulver and Amara Okereke as well as composer Jason Robert Brown (and it was great performing 13 which he originally wrote for NYMT and then introduced us doing a song from it on the night)… and loads of other NYMT alumni as well, showing just how many people have travelled that path. In total, I think I was in songs from over ten different shows. I remember going over the mic plot the night before, it was so complex! Kinky Boots was on at the theatre at that time and it was really exciting seeing the dressing rooms and props backstage.
Performing at The Other Palace (although it’s off West End) was also brilliant – it was really soon after I’d seen Heathers there and then we had a short run directly after them, it was an amazing feeling to be on the same stage I’d been watching all the Heathers cast on!
What do you love about performing?
I love the buzz it gives me, it gets my blood pumping! I love the feeling it gives me when I’m on stage and there’s so many faces there in front of you, but you can’t really see them. It is pure excitement being able to make people feel things by telling them a story on stage with all my cast mates.
Where did your musical theatre work start?
I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember, but I think NYMT was the big turning point that made me step up to the idea of wanting to do it in the future.
Do you enjoy watching musical theatre as well as performing, and have you seen any shows recently?
Yes, whenever I go to see a great show it just reminds me how much I love what I’m doing and how I’d love to be up there with them. It’s magical watching a production for the first time, although I want to see them more than once! The most recent one I saw was The Book of Mormon, which was hilarious. I’d heard loads of people talk about it and being old enough to finally go and see it, it was just so funny. Just before that I saw Everybody’s Talking About Jamie with John McCrea, who was fantastic. It has a really important message and the story was so heart-warming. All of the actors were amazing in it.
I’m really looking forward to seeing the Les Mis concert in the Summer and also Dear Evan Hansen in November.
What’s it like boarding at Tring Park School for Performing Arts and what’s a typical day here?
Being at Tring is so much fun but also quite tiring! The teachers really push you and get the best out of you and they’re also very inspiring so it makes you want to work hard with them. The days are very long because they start at 8am and I do all my academic lessons, then we have a quick 40 minutes for lunch and then we do vocational lessons in the afternoon and finish at 6:30pm, then I have prep after dinner.
The vocational lessons involve drama GCSE, acting lessons, rehearsals for whichever production is coming up, solo singing, ballet, tap, jazz and body conditioning. I also have one-to-one singing lessons.
I’m in a dorm with five other girls on the top floor of an incredible, very old mansion. It’s a really creative environment (it can get very loud!) and all the girls in my room are also on my course so we’re always singing and dancing together! Everyone there is really talented and some are thousands of miles from home so we’re all super supportive of each other too.
The facilities are great – we have a massive ballroom to do rehearsals in and amazing dance studios. There is also a new block being built and I’m hoping I might have a room in there next year.
You also have to be really well organised because going back to the dorm is a bit of a trek! I also have to plan my own laundry, change bed linen and shop for essentials at the weekend. Post is put out once a day and it’s always lovely to receive letters and cards and even care parcels sometimes.
What would you have liked to know about Tring Park before booking your place?
I would have liked to know more about how the day was structured. It is just so different from ordinary school, nothing quite prepares you for it!
How have you found your first year?
Surreal! I never thought I’d get this opportunity to start training full time at this age and doing what I love every day is just so wonderful.
I didn’t know anyone when I went there so it was very daunting and I’d never boarded before but after settling in, my dorm mates became my best friends. All the teachers have been really supportive too and helped me develop my skills.
It’s a bit weird being at school over the weekends but my friends and I find things to do like going for a tuck run to Tesco or just sitting on back lawn and chatting. House parents are there when you need them but we have a lot of independence too. On Saturday nights, we sometimes order pizza and watch a film in our dorm.
How different is this to your previous school/home life?
Incredibly different! I’m quite a long way from home and I’m living with friends and I get to sing, dance and act every day.
My old school did the normal stuff with academic lessons taking up most of the time and then a bit of sport and so I used to have to do all my performing arts training in the evenings and weekends out of school and it was quite difficult to juggle everything – I even used to go to London every weekend for training with West End MT, doing homework in the car during the six-hour return journey. Now I get to dedicate half of my school day to doing what I love!
What advice would you give someone hoping to attend?
I found the auditions really nerve-racking but looking back now I realise that all they really want is to see you, what makes you an individual, what your potential is and what they can work on with you, so don’t try to be anything you’re not and just show them you and your passion.
Once you get in, be yourself from the moment you arrive, don’t try to be someone you’re not, everyone has their own strengths and expectations of themselves and don’t feel you have to live up to other people’s expectations. Go for every opportunity you can because it will be really rewarding.
We understand you are over the height to play a child in theatre, how difficult is this as a performer?
I find it quite frustrating. I’m not actually tall for my age, so it’s disheartening to know that I cannot perform on stage professionally as a child in the West End as I’m taller than they specify (and have been for quite a while) however I know I need to focus on what I can change rather than what I can’t change, so I’m training hard and trying to develop as a performer as that’s the only way I’m ever going to be able to do it when I’m older.
Can you tell us about your upcoming film?
I’ve just wrapped on a film commissioned by BBC Arts but I’m not allowed to say too much about it yet! What I can say is that it’s a short musical film called Wake Up Britain which follows a group of young people who struggle with teen problems and also issues that stem from the obsession with social media. It’s a really fresh and innovative concept and the message is quite powerful but delivered in a really creative way through a musical. It should be aired on BBC some time over the next twelve months.
What previous screen roles have you worked on?
I have played lead in two short films, one was a period docudrama called Tapestry and the other was a comedy musical. I really enjoy screen acting, I think because I’m naturally rather shy and am also quite a sensitive person, so I enjoy having the opportunity to act in a more subtle way than on stage. I also enjoy the interaction with the director who has their vision they are bringing to life through you.
Do you have any screen or stage roles you’ll be working on in the summer months?
For the stage, I am thrilled to be workshopping a brand new musical with NYMT with creatives I haven’t worked with before. Katie Lam and Alex Parker won the very first NYMT award for New Writing for Musical Theatre earlier this year and it’ll be directed by Kate Golledge who has done so much great work for NYMT. I’ve been involved in taking a new musical from script to stage before, but never a workshop totally dedicated to developing it from concept.
And then on screen, I’m booked to film a new web series thriller which will be a completely new experience for me and I think I’ll find it really fascinating.
I’ve had to make some difficult choices this summer due to clashing dates but also because I want to spend some time at home with my family – and my dog!
Follow Lottie on: